Showing posts with label Architects. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Architects. Show all posts

6 June 2024

Vecchietta – painter and sculptor

Early Renaissance craftsman left a rich legacy of work in Tuscany

The Vision of Santa Sorore, part of a fresco cycle by Vecchietta at the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala
The Vision of Santa Sorore, part of a fresco cycle by
Vecchietta at the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala
The artist Lorenzo di Pietro di Giovanni, who later became known as Vecchietta, ‘the little old one,’ died on this day in 1480 in Siena.

Vecchietta was a renowned painter, sculptor, goldsmith, and architect of the Renaissance. He was born in Siena and baptised on 11 August, 1410 in the city. He is believed to have become the pupil of a Sienese artist and his name has been linked with those of Sassetta, Taddeo di Bartolo and Jacopo della Quercia.

Much of Vecchietta’s work has remained in Siena, some of it in the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, which caused him to be also known as pittor della spedale  - painter of the hospital. With branches in many other towns, the hospital was one of the largest and most famous of its kind in mediaeval Italy.

He painted a series of frescoes for the Pellegrinaio - Pilgrim Hall - at the hospital along with Domenico di Bartolo and Priamo della Quercia. These included The Founding of the Spedale and The Vision of Santa Sorore, which depicts a dream of the mother of the cobbler Sorore, the mythical founder of the hospital.

In about 1444, Vecchietta decorated the Cappella di Sacra Chiodo, the old sacristry, with his work. His frescoes were of Annunciation, Nativity, and Last Judgments scenes and an Allegory of The Ladder, depicting children climbing to heaven.

Vecchietta's Arliquiera, originally in the hospital's old sacristy, is now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale
Vecchietta's Arliquiera, originally in the hospital's
old sacristy, is now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale
He created a bronze figure of the risen Christ, which was signed and dated 1476, for the high altar of the Church of the Santissima Annunziata, which was within the hospital complex. This is said to show the influence of the sculptor Donatello, who Vecchietta is believed to have met in Siena in the 1450s.

The Arliquiera, a painted wardrobe for holy relics, was decorated by Vecchietta for the old sacristry of Santa Maria della Scala in 1445. It is now in the collection of the Pinacoteca Nazionale - National Picture Gallery - of Siena.

Vecchietta and his pupils, who included Francesco di Giorgio and Neroccio de’ Landi, created a series of frescoes for the Baptistry of San Giovanni at Siena Cathedral between 1447 and 1450.

A large bronze ciborium, originally created by Vecchietta for the hospital in the 1460s, was moved to the Cathedral after his death. 

A bronze tomb statue of a jurist from Siena was created by Vecchietta for the church of San Domenico and this is now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. He also sculpted life-size figures of St Peter and St Paul for the Loggia della Mercanzia and a sculpture of St Martin for the Palazzo Saracini. 

Vecchietta made a silver statue of St Catherine of Siena when she was canonised in 1461, but this work disappeared after the siege of Siena in 1565.

In Pienza, just outside Siena, there is a painting of the Assumption created by Vecchietta in 1461 for Pope Pius II. 

A panel depicting the Madonna, which was created by Vecchietta, is in the Uffizi in Florence and there is a painting of Saint Peter Martyr by Vecchietta at the Palazzo Cini gallery in Venice. The British Library in London has a manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy containing illuminations by Vecchietta.

Considered to have been among the outstanding Sienese artists of the 15th century,  Vecchietta died, aged nearly 70, on June 6, 1480 in Siena. He had previously designed a funerary chapel for himself and his wife in Santa Maria della Scala.

Siena's Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta is considered an architectural masterpiece
Siena's Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta
is considered an architectural masterpiece
Travel tip:

Siena in Tuscany is well known as the venue for the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena. The race starts from Piazza del Campo, a shell-shaped open area which is regarded as one of Europe’s finest mediaeval squares. It was established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between three communities that eventually merged to form the city of Siena. The piazza, built between 1287 and 1355, consists of nine sections of fan-like brick pavement said to symbolise the Madonna's cloak said to protect the city in dark times.  The Campo is dominated by the red Palazzo Pubblico and its tower, Torre del Mangia. The city’s cathedral, which houses works by Vecchietta, is considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque Gothic architecture.

Vasari's 'wall of windows' became the space where the Medici displayed their art collection
Vasari's 'wall of windows' became the space
where the Medici displayed their art collection
Travel tip:

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which houses works by Vecchietta, was originally created as a suite of offices - uffici - for the administration of Cosimo I de’ Medici. The architect, Giorgio Vasari, created a wall of windows on the upper storey and from about 1580, the Medici began to use this well-lit space to display their art treasures, which was the start of one of the oldest and most famous art galleries in the world. The present day Uffizi Gallery, in Piazzale degli Uffizi, is open from 8.15 am to 6.50 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.

Also on this day:

1513: The Battle of Novara

1772: The birth of Maria Theresa, the last Holy Roman Empress

1861: The death of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour

1896: The birth of Italo Balbo, Mussolini’s heir apparent 

1926: The birth of auto engineer Giotto Bizzarrini

1979: The birth of football coach Roberto De Zerbi



19 May 2024

Baccio d’Agnolo - architect and woodcarver

Florentine who influenced the look of his home city

Baccio d'Agnolo was a significant influence on Florentine architecture
Baccio d'Agnolo was a significant
influence on Florentine architecture
The woodcarver, sculptor and architect Baccio D'Agnolo, whose work significantly influenced the architectural landscape of his home city in the Renaissance period, was born in Florence on this day in 1462.

His birth name was Bartolomeo Baglioni but he came to be referred to as d’Agnolo in a reference to the name of his father, Angelo, while Baccio was a popular short form for Bartolomeo. His father was also a woodcarver, which explains the direction of his early career.

Between 1491 and 1502, Baccio executed much of the decorative carving in the church of Santa Maria Novella and the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence before turning to architecture. 

He worked alongside Simone del Pollaiolo in restoring the Palazzo Vecchio, and in 1506 was commissioned to complete the drum of the cupola of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, although the project was ultimately abandoned after criticism from Michelangelo.

Among the notable buildings attributed to Baccio d’Agnolo are the Palazzo Borgherini-Rosselli del Turco and the Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni, while his design for the campanile of the church of Santo Spirito has also been praised.

Baccio had five children, three of whom - Giuliano, Filippo and Domenico - also became architects. 

It was through studying the best work of contemporaries such as Bernardo della Cecca, Giuliano da Maiano and Francione that he acquired such a high level of skill in working with wood.

An example of Baccio d'Agnolo's early work with wood carving
An example of Baccio d'Agnolo's
early work with wood carving
The art historian Giorgio Vasari, who was a contemporary of so many of the great names of the Renaissance and was a talented architect in his own right, described Baccio as unsurpassed in the art of working wood. At the height of his fame, Baccio’s workshop became a meeting place for the most famous artists of the time, such as Michelangelo Buonarrotti, Raphael, del Pollaiolo, Giuliano and Antono da Sangallo the Elder, and Benedetto da Maiano. 

Many of Baccio’s original wood works were lost. The best remaining evidence of his carpentry is the choir of the church of Santa Maria Novella and the 16th-century choir of the church of Sant'Agostino in Perugia, on which his sons are said to have collaborated.

In a second period of his life, Baccio dedicated himself almost exclusively to architecture. He collaborated with Del Pollaiolo and Antonio da Sangallo the Elder on the construction of the Great Hall in the Palazzo della Signoria.

He established himself as an architect in his own right in 1503-04, building the Palazzo Taddei in Via dei Ginori, which was influenced by Del Pollaiolo’s Palazzo Guadagni and became a template for the typical noble Florentine residence of the first half of the 16th century. 

His commission to build an eighth part of the gallery around the huge dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, left unfinished by Filippo Brunelleschi, was continued due to the harsh criticism of Michelangelo, who defined it as a "cricket cage". 

The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni palace in the Piazza di Santa Trinita (1517-20) is considered by some to be Baccio's masterpiece, bringing together all the qualities of his art, the windows surmounted by the pediment and interposed by niches and excavations having a genuine originality. 

Executed in the High Renaissance style that Baccio admired during a period in which he worked in Rome, it became a model for civil constructions of the 16th century. 

Baccio d’Agnolo died in Florence in 1543, at the age of 80.

The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni is one of Baccio's notable works
The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni
is one of Baccio's notable works
Travel tip:

The Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni is in Piazza di Santa Trinita on Via de' Tornabuoni in central Florence. It was built on the site of a former residence of the Soldanieri and Dati families, which was bought by Bartolomeo Bartolini-Salimbeni, who paid Baccio d'Agnolo two florins per month for his work. The Bartolini-Salimbeni family lived in the palace until the early 19th century, after which, in 1839, it became the Hotel du Nord, where figures such as the American writer Herman Melville stayed. The palace was restored in 1961 and it is now a private property. It once housed the San Romano Battle paintings by Paolo Uccello, which were commissioned by a member of the Bartolini Salimbeni family. The paintings are now distributed between the Uffizi, the National Gallery in London and the Louvre in Paris.

Palazzo Vecchio, which Baccio helped restore
Palazzo Vecchio, which
Baccio helped restore
Travel tip:

Florence’s imposing Palazzo Vecchio, formerly Palazzo della Signoria, a cubical building of four storeys made of solid rusticated stonework, crowned with projecting crenellated battlements and a clock tower rising to 94m (308ft), became home of Duke Cosimo I de' Medici moved his official seat from the Medici palazzo in via Larga in May 1540. When Cosimo later removed to Palazzo Pitti, he officially renamed his former palace the Palazzo Vecchio, the "Old Palace", although the adjacent town square, the Piazza della Signoria, still bears the original name. Cosimo commissioned the painter and architect Giorgio Vasari to build an above-ground walkway, the Vasari corridor, from the Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti. Cosimo I also moved the seat of government to the Uffizi, which translated literally, simply means ‘offices’. Today, of course, the Uffizi, is known the world over for its collection of art treasures.

Also on this day:

1860: The birth of politician Vittorio Orlando

1870: The birth of sculptor Pompeo Coppini

1946: The birth of actor Michele Placido

1979: The birth of footballer Andrea Pirlo


28 April 2024

Andrea Moroni – architect

Cousin of brilliant painter left mark on Padua

The Basilica of Santa Giustina in Padua is arguably Andrea Moroni's most famous work
The Basilica of Santa Giustina in Padua is
arguably Andrea Moroni's most famous work
Andrea Moroni, who designed many beautiful buildings in Padua and the Veneto region, died on this day in 1560 in Padua.

Born into a family of stonecutters in Albino near Bergamo in Lombardy, Moroni was the cousin and contemporary of Giovanni Battista Moroni, the brilliant Bergamo painter, who was also born in Albino.

Moroni the architect has works attributed to him in Brescia, another city in Lombardy about 50km (31 miles) east of Bergamo. He is known to have been in the city between 1527 and 1532 where he built a choir for the monastery of Santa Giulia.

He probably also designed the building in which the nuns could attend mass in the monastery of Santa Giulia and worked on the church of San Faustino.

As a result, he made his name with the Benedictine Order and obtained commissions for two Benedictine churches in Padua, Santa Maria di Praglia and the more famous Santa Giustina.

His contract with Santa Giustina was renewed every ten years until his death and he settled down to live in Padua.

Moroni supervised the construction of Palazzo del Bo, the university building in the centre of Padua
Moroni supervised the construction of Palazzo del
Bo, the university building in the centre of Padua
He was commissioned by the Venetian Government to build the Palazzo del Podestà, which is now known as Palazzo Moroni in Via VIII Febbraio , and is currently the seat of Padua city Council. It is considered one of the most significant Renaissance buildings in the entire Veneto region.

Moroni was also involved in the construction of the Orto Botanico, Padua’s famous botanical gardens, where medicinal plants were grown, and some of the university buildings.

It is known that he supervised the construction of Palazzo del Bo, the main university building in the city, but there is some controversy over who designed the internal courtyard. Famous names such as Jacopo Sansovino and Andrea Palladio have been suggested rather than Moroni.

However the Loggia of the Palazzo del Capitaniato and the Palazetto have been attributed to him, along with Palazzo Zacco and the Charterhouse of Vigodarzere.

Some architectural historians believe Moroni’s reputation as an architect, and the question marks over whether some buildings attributed to him were really the work of others, may have suffered because his career coincided with that of Palladio.

The Chapel of St Luke at the Basilica di Santa, where the remains of the saint are said to rest
The Chapel of St Luke at the Basilica di Santa,
where the remains of the saint are said to rest

Travel tip:

The Basilica di Santa Giustina in Padua is at the south-east corner of the square called Prato della Valle, where it is joined by Via Avezzano and Via Ferrari. At the back of the Presbytery, a magnificent altarpiece painted by Paolo Veronese in 1575 depicts the moment of her death. The basilica also contains Jacopo Bassano’s Santa Giustina enthroned with the saints Sebastian, Antonio Abate and Rocco, which was painted by him in around 1560 with the help of his son, Francesco, and is considered one of the most original examples of the Venetian Mannerist culture. Next door to the basilica there is a Benedictine monastery with frescoed cloisters and a famous library that can be visited by arrangement. The remains of Santa Giustina, a devout young woman who was martyred in 304, are buried in the church, which is also home to the tomb containing the body of St Luke the Evangelist, who was credited with writing the Gospel according to St Luke.

The Orto Botanico in Padua, now a UNESCO heritage site, is thought to the world's first botanical garden
The Orto Botanico in Padua, now a UNESCO heritage
site, is thought to the world's first botanical garden
Travel tip:

Padua’s Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico), which was created in 1545, is thought to be the world’s first botanical garden. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the garden, which still belongs to the University of Padua, is in Via Orto Botanico close to Prato della Valle. When it was founded, the garden was devoted to the growth of medicinal plants that could provide natural remedies. According to UNESCO, the garden has made a profound contribution to the development of many modern scientific disciplines, notably botany, medicine, chemistry, ecology and pharmacy.  The garden was designed by Moroni as a circle enclosing a square divided into four quadrants, in which the plants were grown. The Orto Botanico is open to the public every day apart from working Mondays with an entry fee of €10. 

Also on this day:

25 April 2024

Giacomo Boni - archaeologist and architect

Venetian best known for his discoveries at the Forum in Rome

Giacomo Boni was born in Venice but lived in Rome for much of his adult life
Giacomo Boni was born in Venice but
lived in Rome for much of his adult life
The archaeologist Giacomo Boni, who was director of excavations at the Forum in Rome for 27 years until his death in 1925, was born on this day in 1859 in Venice.

His work within the ancient Roman site led to significant discoveries, including the Iron Age necropolis, the Lapis Niger, the Regia and other monuments.

Boni had a particular interest in stratigraphy, the branch of geology concerning subterranean layers of rock and other materials, and was among the first to apply the principles of stratigraphic excavation in the field of archaeological research.

The methods he employed in his work at the Forum still serve as a reference point today.

Boni was also an architect. In that area of his work, his masterpiece is considered to be the restoration of the Villa Blanc, a prestigious house that represents a unique example of eclectic art, a harmonious blend of elements and styles of different ages and cultures.

He served as a soldier during World War I, after which he embraced fascism, which he saw as an opportunity for the revival of ancient Roman religion and paganism, in which he had a keen interest. He joined the National Fascist Party, having become enthusiastic about Mussolini’s vision of a Fascist Italy as a kind of continuation of the Roman Empire. Mussolini in turn appointed him a senator in 1923. 

Boni grew up in a strongly patriotic household, his father, a naval captain, having refused to swear allegiance to the Austrian Emperor at considerable cost to his status.

Boni photographed near the
Arch of Trajan in 1907
His interest in architecture grew from his work, as a 19-year-old labourer, on the restoration of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. He enrolled at the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti to study architecture before moving to Rome, where he quickly obtained a series of important appointments.

In 1888 he was appointed secretary of the Royal Chalcography and, in 1890, inspector of monuments of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Fine Arts.  He assisted in the Pantheon excavation in 1892 with Luca Beltrami and the architect, Giuseppe Sacconi, who would later be known as the designer of the Victor Emmanuel monument. 

In 1895 he became director of the Regional Office of Monuments of Rome and, three years later, was appointed to direct the excavations of the Foro Romano, the Roman Forum.

Documents show that Boni’s research in the Forum was responsible for the discovery of the Lapis niger, the Regia, the Lacus Curtius, the Caesarian tunnels in the subsoil of the square, the archaic necropolis near the temple of Antoninus and Faustina and the church of Santa Maria Antiqua.

He demolished the church of Santa Maria Liberatrice in order to expose the ruins of Santa Maria Antiqua. His other discoveries included portions of the Column of Trajan.

Boni also worked on the slope of the Palatine Hill where he discovered the Mundus (tholos-cistern), a complex of tunnels leading to the Casa dei Grifi, the Aula Isiac and the Baths of Tiberius.

During his work on the renovation of Villa Blanc, a noble property set in parkland on the edge of the Trieste quarter to the northeast of Rome’s city centre, he also carried out some excavations that revealed the existence of a Roman mausoleum.

Boni’s embrace of Mussolini’s regime was short-lived, in the event.  Two years after being made a senator, he became ill and died at the age of 66. His body was buried within the Orti Farnesiani sul Palatino, the botanical gardens on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Forum. 

The ruins of ancient Rome's Foro Romano are  visited by 4.5 million people every year
The ruins of ancient Rome's Foro Romano are 
visited by 4.5 million people every year
Travel tip:

Rome's historic Forum, situated between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, was at the heart both of the ancient city of Rome and the Roman Empire itself, the nucleus of political affairs and commercial business, a place where elections took place and great speeches were made.  The site fell into disrepair with the fall of the Empire and over time buildings were dismantled for the stone and marble, with much debris left behind.  Eventually it was abandoned and became overgrown and was used mainly for grazing cattle.  Attempts at uncovering and restoring buildings began in the early 19th century and the process of excavating areas long buried continues today.  The impressive and extensive ruins are now one of Rome's major tourist attractions, drawing some 4.5 million visitors each year.

The Fontana delle Rane in Piazza Mincio in the Quartiere Coppedè in Rome's Trieste neighbourhood
The Fontana delle Rane in Piazza Mincio in the
Quartiere Coppedè in Rome's Trieste neighbourhood
Travel tip:

The Trieste quarter is the 17th quarter of Rome, located in the north-central area of the city. It borders the Aniene river to the north and northeast and is a neighbour of other notable quarters, such as Monte Sacro, Nomentano, Salario, and Parioli. It is an area with a rich history, one of its attractions being the ancient catacomb of Priscilla, a former quarry used for Christian burials from the late second century until the fourth century.  The Trieste quarter houses the Quartiere Coppedè, an architectural complex known for its eclectic style, and Villa Albani, which holds a collection of classical art. The eastern part of Trieste is referred to as the African Quarter, its streets named after the colonies of the Kingdom of Italy. The quarter was once famous for the Piper Club, a 1960s bar and music venue that hosted the debut of the Italian pop star Patty Pravo and performances by Pink Floyd, Nirvana and the Beatles among others. Combining historical charm with a vibrant community feel, Trieste can offer a pleasant escape from the more tourist-dominated areas of Rome.

Also on this day:

1472: The death of Renaissance polymath Leon Battista Alberti

1815: The birth of inventor Giovanni Caselli

1973: The death of former World War I flying ace Ferruccio Ranza

Festa della Liberazione

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18 April 2024

Giuseppe Terragni - architect

Major pioneer of Italian Rationalism

Terragni's Casa del Fascio in Como, completed in 1936, is considered a modernist masterpiece
Terragni's Casa del Fascio in Como, completed in
1936, is considered a modernist masterpiece
The influential architect Giuseppe Terragni, who was a pioneer of the modern movement in Italy and a leading Italian Rationalist, was born in Meda, a town in Lombardy between Milan and Como, on this day in 1904.

Terragni's work tends to be associated with the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, although some students of his work have questioned whether he should be considered a Fascist architect.

He was a founding member of the Gruppo 7, a collective of seven Italian architects whose aim was to move Italian architecture away from neo-classical and neo-baroque revivalism towards Rationalism. The group produced a manifesto spelling out their aims. 

Terragni’s most renowned work is the Casa del Fascio in Como, also known as the Palazzo Terragni, which was constructed between 1932 and 1936 and is considered a masterpiece. 

Other notable works include his war memorials at Como and Erba, the Posta Hotel in Como, a number of apartment buildings in Como and Milan, a Casa del Fascio in Brianza and another in Lissone, and the Antonio Sant'Elia nursery school in Como.

Terragni's career and life were cut short by World War Two
Terragni's career and life were
cut short by World War Two
With fellow architect Pietro Lingeri, he designed the Danteum, a proposed monument in Rome to the Italian poet Dante Alighieri structured to reflect his greatest work, the Divine Comedy. The monument, in the event, was never built.

Terragni’s father, Michele, was a builder and owner of a construction company. His mother, Emilia, arranged for him to live with members of her family in Como so that he could attend lessons at the Technical Institute of Como, where he enrolled on a mathematical physics course.

He graduated in 1921 and enrolled at the Royal Higher Technical Institute (later Polytechnic of Milan), where he graduated in 1926 before he and six fellow students - Luigi Figini, Adalberto Libera, Gino Pollini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco Silva and Carlo Enrico Rava - signed the document that united them as the Gruppo 7, which the following year expanded into the Italian Rational Architecture Movement (MIAR).

In the same year, 1927, the magazine Rassegna Italiana published the four articles considered to be the manifesto of Italian Rationalism. Terragni was one of the seven signatories.

With his brother, Attilio, Terragni opened an office in Como in 1927. His first original building, a collaboration with Luigi Zuccoli, was the Novocomum apartment building in Como (1927-29), designed in European avant-garde style with elements of German expressionism and Soviet constructivism. 

Between 1928 and 1932 he created the War Memorial in Erba, a town east of Como, the first modern war memorial in Italy. He moved from there to start work on the Casa del Fascio in Como, which fronts on to Piazza del Popolo on Via Alessandro Manzoni, opposite Como’s majestic duomo, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, with its 15th century Gothic facade and a 18th century cupola by Filippo Juvara.

Terragni's Monumento ai Caduti in Erba was the first modern war memorial built in Italy
Terragni's Monumento ai Caduti in Erba was the
first modern war memorial built in Italy
The Casa del Fascio, which enthusiasts see as a milestone of modern European architecture, forms a perfect prism, its height corresponding to half the base. It owes it expanse of glass to Terragni himself, who followed the Fascist regime’s instruction to create a building that was accessible and without secrets, declaring that "the concept of visibility, of the instinctive control established between the public and Federation workers predominates in the study of this Casa del Fascio". 

In 1933, Terragni joined Lingeri in opening a studio in Milan, where they designed a series of apartment houses, including the Casa Rustici in Corso Sempione, the broad boulevard that links Piazza Firenze with the Arco della Pace, and the Casa Toninello in Via Perasto and Casa Ghiringhelli in Piazzale Lagosta, both in the Isola district, north of Porta Garibaldi railway station.

Back in Como, in 1936 he built the Antonio Sant'Elia nursery school, for which his design was characterised by large bright spaces that he hoped would create a sense of happy freedom. It formed part of a social programme aimed at helping working-class women escape from domestic drudgery and giving children a healthy, hygienic environment, open to greenery, play and education. 

He and Attilio retained their office in Como until Giuseppe's premature death at the age of just 39, the result of the physical and psychological consequences of being called up to serve with the Italian Army on the Eastern Front. 

Terragni was ahead of his time in giving children a large, airy play area in his Sant'Elia nursery
Terragni was ahead of his time in giving children
a large, airy play area in his Sant'Elia nursery
Attilio was the Fascist Podestà (mayor) of Como when the Casa del Fascio, built as the local party headquarters, was commissioned,

Until 1940 Terragni was fully active and had many works in progress, including the Danteum, the project for the development of the Cortesella district of Como, the Casa del Fascio and the complex Casa Giuliani Frigerio, which some consider to be his final masterpiece.

Everything changed, though, when Italy entered World War Two. Terragni received his call-up papers and was assigned to an Italian army unit destined for the Eastern Front. 

After the Italian advance disintegrated near Stalingrad, Terragni suffered a nervous breakdown.  He returned to Como but in July 1943 he collapsed and died at his girlfriend's house, having suffered a cerebral thrombosis.

His body was buried in the family tomb in Lentate sul Seveso, a neighbouring town to Meda. 

Terragni's architectural legacy, though brief, left a significant impact on modernist architecture in Italy, and his works continue to be studied and admired for their innovative approach and design excellence. 

Meda's Church of San Vittore is an important example of Lombard Renaissance architecture
Meda's Church of San Vittore is an important
example of Lombard Renaissance architecture
Travel tip:

Meda, where Terragni was born, is a town in the province of Monza and Brianza in Lombardy, around 26km (15 miles) north of Milan and a similar distance south of Como. Nowadays a centre for furniture production, it was originally established around a convent built on a mound (meta in Latin) from which it gets its name. The territory was held by the Visconti and Sforza families until coming under the control of Spain, France and the Habsburg empire before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy. The town’s 16th century Church of San Vittore  has a series of frescoes by Bernardino Luini. 

The Casa Ghiringhelli in Isola
is one of Terragni's buildings
Travel tip:

Isola, the district of Milan where Terragini and Pietro Lingeri collaborated on a number of apartment buildings, is regarded as a somewhat trendy, up-and-coming neighbourhood, a former working-class area that has taken on a vibrant hipster feel. Easy to reach via Milan’s metro system, it is perfect for travellers who want to experience an alternative Milan. It has a lively art scene with plentiful street art, especially along the underground tunnel connecting the Isola and Garibaldi metro stations. As well as such public art installations, Isola has many art galleries that remain largely undiscovered by the tourist crowds who flood to Milan for its most famous art galleries. Isola is home to Ratanà, considered by some to be one of the best restaurants in all of Milan, where Milan-born head chef Cesare Battisti brings a signature twist to typical Milanese dishes. 

Also on this day:

1446: The birth of noblewoman Ippolita Maria Sforza

1480: The birth of notorious beauty Lucrezia Borgia

1902: The birth of politician Giuseppe Pella

1911: The birth of racing car maker Ilario Bandini


5 April 2024

Francesco Laparelli - architect and military engineer

Italian who designed Valletta, the fortified capital of Malta

Francesco Laparelli found himself in demand as a military architect
Francesco Laparelli found himself
in demand as a military architect
The architect Francesco Laparelli da Cortona, who worked as assistant to Michelangelo Buonarroti at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome but is chiefly renowned for the design of Valletta, the fortified capital city of Malta, was born on this day in 1521 in the hilltop city of Cortona in what is now Tuscany.

Laparelli designed the campanile - bell tower - for Cortona’s duomo but turned his talents towards military engineering after serving as an officer under Cosimo de’ Medici during the battle for control of the Republic of Siena in the 1550s.

He went on to serve on Cortona’s city council and worked with other engineers on the Fortezza del Girifalco above the city. The cost of the fortress and other work on the city walls eventually bankrupted the city but Laparelli’s reputation was established.

He was summoned to Rome by Pope Pius IV in 1560  on the recommendation of Gabrio Serbelloni, the pope’s cousin and a condottiero with whom Laparelli had worked in Cortona.

Pius IV commissioned him to restore the fortifications at Civitavecchia, Rome’s main port, to build defences for the mouth of the Tiber river and to direct the strengthening of fortifications around the Vatican and the new suburb of Borgo Pio.

In 1565 he completed the reinforcement of the cylindrical Castel Sant'Angelo, now a familiar Rome landmark, and collaborated with Michelangelo on the huge dome of St Peter's Basilica, with particular focus on ensuring it was a stable structure.

Modern Valletta, capital of Malta, still resembles the fortress-city that was planned by Laparelli
Modern Valletta, capital of Malta, still resembles
the fortress-city that was planned by Laparelli
Laparelli was keen to take on further architectural projects in the capital but later in 1565 was asked by Pope Pius V to go to Malta, where the Knights of St John had finally defied a long siege of the island by the Ottoman Turks, who wanted it as a base from which to attack Italy, but at a cost of considerable destruction to the principal forts at Birgu, Senglea and St Elmo.

The Grand Knight, Jean Parisot de la Valette, favoured rebuilding the existing defences but Laparelli calculated that it would need 4,000 labourers working 24 hours a day just to make basic repairs and proposed that a new fortification on the Sciberras Peninsula could be built at a much cheaper cost. Such a fortification, he said, would enable Malta to be defended against any new incursion by the Turks with just 5,000 soldiers, far fewer than the 12,000 soldiers and 200 horses previously required to protect the island.

Laparelli’s design was for a city built on a grid plan with wide, straight streets, surrounded by ramparts and with the fort of St Elmo rebuilt at the tip of the peninsula. A ditch, later renamed the Ġnien Laparelli as a tribute to him, was added to protect the landward end of the peninsula.

The monument to Laparelli and his assistant, Girolamo Cassar, in Valletta
The monument to Laparelli and his
assistant, Girolamo Cassar, in Valletta
He left Malta in 1569 to help in the papal naval war against the Turks, at which point the major construction work on the city, to be called Valletta, was still to begin.

Born into one of Cortona’s wealthiest and most illustrious families, Laparelli would have one day hoped to return to his home city, where he still owned considerable land and estates, but met with an early death in Crete, where he was staying when he contracted plague at the age of 49 in 1570.

He was unable to see his designs reach fruition in Valletta, where his work was continued by his Maltese assistant, Girolamo Cassar. Both he and Cassar are commemorated with a monument between Valletta’s Parliament House and the ruins of its old Royal Opera House, sculpted by John Grima and unveiled in 2016.

Laparelli's campanile towers over the small hilltop city of Cortona, his place of birth
Laparelli's campanile towers over the small hilltop
city of Cortona, his place of birth
Travel tip:

Cortona, Laparelli’s home town, was founded by the Etruscans, making it one of the oldest cities in Tuscany. Its Etruscan Academy Museum displays a vast collection of bronze, ceramic and funerary items reflecting the town’s past. The museum also offers access to an archaeological park that includes city fortifications and stretches of Roman roads. Outside the museum, the houses in Via Janelli are some of the oldest houses still surviving in Italy. Powerful during the mediaeval period, Cortona was defeated by Naples in 1409 and then sold to Florence.  Characterised by its steep narrow streets, Cortona’s hilltop location - it has an elevation of 600 metres (2,000 ft) - offers sweeping views of the Valdichiana, including Lago Trasimeno, where Hannibal ambushed the Roman army in 217 BC during the Second Punic War.

Castel Sant'Angelo, which Laparelli reinforced before leaving for Malta, is a well-known Rome landmark
Castel Sant'Angelo, which Laparelli reinforced before
leaving for Malta, is a well-known Rome landmark

Travel tip:

Castel Sant’Angelo was originally built as a mausoleum for the Roman Emperor Hadrian and his family on the right bank of the Tiber between 134 and 139 AD. There is a legend that the Archangel Michael appeared on top of the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, which is how the castle acquired its present name. Pope Nicolas III commissioned a covered fortified corridor, the Passetto, to link it to the Vatican and Pope Clement VII was able to use it to escape from the Vatican during the siege of Rome by Charles V’s troops in 1527. Castel Sant’Angelo was used as the setting for the third act of Giacomo Puccini’s 1900 opera Tosca, during which the heroine leaps to her death from the ramparts.

Also on this day:

1498: The birth of soldier Giovanni dalle Bande Nere

1622: The birth of mathematician and scientist Vincenzo Viviani

1801: The birth of philosopher and politician Vincenzo Gioberti

(Picture credits: Valletta by MarcinCzerniawski, Castel Sant'Angelo by Rainhard2 via Pixabay; monument by No Swan So Fine, Cortona by Patrick Denker via Wikimedia Commons)


12 December 2023

Giancarlo De Carlo - architect

Forward-thinking designer who helped shape modern Urbino

De Carlo's ideas often put him at odds with more traditional urban planners
De Carlo's ideas often put him at odds
with more traditional urban planners
The architect Giancarlo De Carlo, who gained international recognition for his forward-thinking work in urban planning, was born in Genoa on this day in 1919. 

De Carlo was also a writer and educator, who was critical of what he saw as the failure of 20th century architecture.   Many of his building projects were in Urbino, the city in Marche known for its 15th century ducal palace and as the birthplace of the painter Raphael.  

He put forward a master plan for Urbino between 1958-64, which involved new buildings and renovations added carefully to the existing fabric of the city, described as genteel modernism and designed with the lives of Urbino citizens in mind. 

The most notable parts of the Urbino project were at the University of Urbino, where he worked for decades, constructing housing, classroom and administration buildings, carefully embedded into the hilly landscape and designed to facilitate ease of movement between parts of the campus.

He also built Matteotti New Village, a social housing project in Terni in Umbria to provide homes for the employees of Italy’s largest steel company, designed housing for working people in Matera in Basilicata and worked on the Mirano Hospital in Venice, buildings for the University of Siena, and the redevelopment of the Piazza della Mostra, Trento.

De Carlo’s buildings reflected his views on the involvement of users and inhabitants in the design process. On the Terni housing project, for example, he insisted that workers be paid to attend consultation sessions to enable him to understand better how they wanted to live. 

The Palazzo Battiferri at the University of Urbino, part of De Carlo's biggest planning project
The Palazzo Battiferri at the University of Urbino,
part of De Carlo's biggest planning project
He was a member of the Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and Team 10, which brought together a new generation of architects focussed on a new type of architecture, better suited to local social and environmental conditions.

De Carlo was educated at Milan Polytechnic, where he graduated in engineering in 1943. He joined the Italian navy but with Italy’s surrender to the Allies in September of that year he went into hiding, then joined the Italian Resistance movement. Together with another architect, Giuseppe Pagano, he organized an anarchist-libertarian partisan group in Milan, the Matteotti Brigades.

He resumed his studies in 1948, obtaining an architecture degree from the University of Venice before opening his first studio in Milan.  His progressive views came to the fore when he produced a series of short films denouncing prevalent ideas about the modern metropolis and, as a professor of urban planning, often clashed with other architects, who he claimed put abstract ideas ahead of the interests of people and their environment.

His 1956 housing project in Matera ignored most of what had become the accepted principles of modern architecture in favour of design sympathetic to the geographical, social and climatic context of the region.  Architects who shared his progressive views joined together in the group known as Team 10. 

De Carlo began working on his Urbino project in 1964, winning international recognition for his designs for the University Campus. During the 1968 student uprisings, he sought constructive dialogue with the students and subsequently wrote a number of essays in which he explored his theories on what became known as “participatory architecture”, underpinned by his own libertarian socialist ideals

Among many honours, De Carlo was awarded the Wolf Prize in Arts in 1988 and the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1993. He died in Milan in 2005.

As well as being the home of Raphael, Urbino offers the attraction of a beautiful ducal palace
As well as being the home of Raphael, Urbino
offers the attraction of a beautiful ducal palace
Travel tip: 

Urbino, which is 36km (22 miles) inland from the Adriatic resort of Pesaro, in the Marche region, is a majestic city on a steep hill.  It was once a famous centre of learning and culture, known not just in Italy but also in its glory days throughout Europe, attracting outstanding artists and scholars to enjoy the patronage of the noble rulers. The Ducal Palace - a Renaissance building made famous by Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier - is now one of the most important monuments in Italy and is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Inside the palace, the National Gallery of the Marche features paintings by Titian and Raphael, who was born in Urbino, and there are more examples of Raphael’s paintings at his house - Casa Natale di Raffaello - in Via Raffaello. The University swells the city’s population by up to 20,000. Urbino is home to a number of gastronomic delights, including crescia sfogliata, a flatbread often served stuffed with melted caciotta cheese, and prosciutto di Carpegna, a local cured ham.

Matera is renowned for its famous cave district, the Sassi di Matera, to which visitors flock
Matera is renowned for its famous cave district,
the Sassi di Matera, to which visitors flock
Travel tip:

Declared a European Capital of Culture in 2019, the city of Matera in Basilicata, where De Carlo completed his first important housing project, is famous for an area called the Sassi di Matera, made up of former cave-dwellings carved into an ancient river canyon. The area became associated with extreme poverty in the last century and was evacuated in 1952, lying abandoned until the 1980s, when a gradual process of regeneration began. Now, the area contains restaurants, hotels and museums and is an increasingly popular destination for visitors.  The oldest part of the city, known as the Civita, sits above the cave districts on a flat, rocky plateau. Before they were turned into new dwellings, the caves became an extension to the Civita, used for storage and stabling horses. The Cattedrale della Madonna della Bruna e di Sant'Eustachio, Matera’s duomo, built in Apulian Romanesque style in the 13th century, can be found at Civita’s highest point.  

Also on this day:

1572: The death of Loredana Marcello, Dogaressa of Venice

1685: The birth of composer Lodovico Giustini

1889: The death in Venice of the English poet, Robert Browning

1901: Guglielmo Marconi receives the first transatlantic radio signal

1957: The birth of novelist Susanna Tamaro

1969: The Piazza Fontana bombing in Milan


7 October 2023

Michelozzo - architect and sculptor

Designs became a template for Renaissance palaces

A detail from a Fra Angelico painting is taken to be a depiction of Michelozzo
A detail from a Fra Angelico painting is
taken to be a depiction of Michelozzo 
The influential Florentine architect and sculptor Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi died on this day in 1472 in his home city.

Known sometimes as Michelozzi but more usually Michelozzo, he is most famous for the palace in the centre of Florence he built on behalf of one of his principal employers, Cosimo de’ Medici, the head of the Medici banking dynasty, for which he developed original design features that became a template for architects not only of the Renaissance era but in later years too.

He was similarly innovative in his work on the ruined convent of San Marco in Florence, also on behalf of Cosimo, which he completely rebuilt.

Such was the influence of these two buildings on many projects during one of the busiest periods of architectural development in Italy’s history that the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, as it became known to reflect its ownership by the Riccardi family after 1659, came to be called ‘the first Renaissance palace’ and San Marco ‘the first Renaissance church’.

His other notable works in Florence include the renovation of the Basilica of della Santissima Annunziata and some additions to the Basilica di Santa Croce, while outside the city he built or renovated a number of villas for the Medici family, including the Castello di Caffagiolo at Barberino di Mugello, the Villa del Trebbio at Scarperia and the Villa Medici at Fiesole.

Michelozzo also worked outside Italy, in the Greek islands, and notably in what is now Croatia, primarily on the city walls of Dubrovnik and Ston.

In his early career, he was apprenticed to Lorenzo Ghiberti, the goldsmith and sculptor, and worked closely with the classical sculptor, Donatello. 

Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Riccardi set the standard for Renaissance palaces
Michelozzo's Palazzo Medici Riccardi set the
standard for Renaissance palaces
Michelozzo was born in around 1396. His father, Bartolomeo di Gherardo Borgognone, was a tailor of French origin who lived and worked in the Santa Croce neighbourhood. The family moved to the San Giovanni quarter, the heart of the city, and later established a family home in Via Larga - now Via Camillo Cavour - which Michelozzo kept after his parents died.

His first employment, at the age of about 14, is thought to have been as a die-engraver for the Florentine mint. He became apprenticed to Ghiberti, who is best known as the creator of two of the three sets of sculpted brass doors of the Florence Baptistry, one of which - the east doors - was dubbed the Doors of Paradise by Michelangelo. 

He collaborated with Donatello on several projects, including the sacristy of Santa Trinita and an open-air pulpit at the cathedral in Prato. He was responsible for the architectural frames of a number of funerary monuments sculpted by Donatello.

Cosimo de’ Medici worked with Filippo Brunelleschi, another pioneer of Renaissance architecture and the architect of the enormous brick dome of the Florence Duomo, but is said to have found Michelozzo more receptive to his wishes than the more temperamental Brunelleschi.

Such was Michelozzo’s loyalty to Cosimo than when the latter was exiled to Venice in the 1430s as a result of political rivalries in Florence, Michelozzo went with him.

Soon after Cosimo’s exile ended, Michelozzo began the rebuilding of the ruined monastery of San Marco, where his elegant library became the model for subsequent libraries throughout 15th-century Italy. He directed the reconstruction of the large complex of church buildings at Santissima Annunziata and temporarily succeeded Brunelleschi as architect for the Duomo after the latter died in 1446.

He began work on the Palazzo Medici in 1444. The palace, a short distance from Michelozzo’s own home in Via Larga, is characterised by an elevation consisting of three storeys of decreasing height, divided by horizontal string courses, the lowest storey finished in rustic masonry, the uppermost in highly refined stonework, the middle one somewhere in between. 

The walled old city of Dubrovnik with Michelozzo's cylindrical Fort Bokar guarding over the western harbour area
The walled old city of Dubrovnik with Michelozzo's cylindrical
Fort Bokar guarding over the western harbour area
With influences of classical Roman architecture and some of the principles Michelozzo learned from Brunelleschi, Palazzo Medici came to be seen as one of the finest examples of early Renaissance architecture, and a template to which future architects referred.

In addition to the Medici villas, Michelozzo worked on the restoration of the Palazzo Vecchio - originally the Palazzo della Signoria - and undertook a number of projects abroad, including a guest house in Jerusalem for the use of Florentine pilgrims.

In 1461, at the age of 65, Michelozzo was invited by the government of what was then the Republic of Ragusa - an independent maritime trading republic with ties to Venice - to work on the city walls of Dubrovnik and Ston, now part of Croatia.  His cylindrical Fort Bokar, which defended the western gate of Dubrovnik, was hailed as a masterpiece. 

Michelozzo might have remained there longer, but a dispute over his ideas for rebuilding the Rector's palace - the seat of the republic's government - after an explosion left it badly damaged led him to cut short his stay and return to Florence. 

With his wife, Francesca, who was 20 to his 45 when they were married, Michelozzo had seven children, two of whom, Niccolò and Bernardo, were educated by the Medici and grew up to occupy important positions in Medici households.

After his death, Michelozzo was buried at the monastery of San Marco.

Part of the beautiful frescoes by Gozzoli in the Magi Chapel at Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Part of the beautiful frescoes by Gozzoli in
the Magi Chapel at Palazzo Medici Riccardi
Travel tip:

For all its architectural significance, the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, which can be found on Via Camillo Cavour about halfway between San Marco and Piazza della Repubblica, has a relatively modest appearance from the outside, which is probably as a result of the laws in existence at the time governing public displays of wealth. It was completed in 1484 and remained a Medici property until it was sold to the Riccardi family in 1659, after which it was renovated and the magnificent gallery frescoed with the Apotheosis of the Medici, by Luca Giordano, was added. The palace was sold to the Tuscan state in 1814. Since 1874, the palace has been the seat of the provincial government of Florence and has housed a museum since 1972. As well as the gallery, the palace is also noted for the Magi Chapel, which was frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli and also contains an altarpiece by Filippo Lippi. Two statues by Donatello - a David in the courtyard and a Judith and Holofernes in the garden - are other notable works.

Piazza San Marco in Florence with the facade of the church of San Marco, part of the convent complex
Piazza San Marco in Florence with the facade of
the church of San Marco, part of the convent complex
Travel tip:

The Museo Nazionale di San Marco, which houses the world’s most extensive collection of works by Fra Angelico, the early Renaissance painter and Dominican friar, is an art museum housed in the monumental section of the mediaeval Dominican convent of San Marco, situated in Piazza San Marco. Situated in the oldest part of the building, which was modernised by Michelozzo between 1436 and 1446, it has been a museum since 1869. It also houses works by Fra Bartolomeo, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Alesso Baldovinetti and Jacopo Vignali. Michelozzo’s library, on the first floor, was the first of the Renaissance to be opened to the public, representing the humanist ideal of the Florentines. 

Also on this day:

304: The execution of Santa Giustina of Padua

1468: The death of condottiero Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta

1675: The birth of Venetian portraitist Rosalba Carriera

1972: The birth of celebrity cook Gabriele Corcos